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Matt Mills, Owner of Lightning Fitness, South Windsor, Conn.

| 02.04.2013 |

The guy in the photo is Matt Mills – and don't worry, he won't be offended if you think that he doesn't look like a stereotypical entrepreneur. Indeed, Mills stands out in a crowd in many ways.

As a professional athlete, Mills has become a dominant figure in the strength athletics field (also known as the strongman competitions), and his mantelpiece is home to numerous awards and trophies from tournaments around the country.

But Mills does a lot more than just lift things up and put them down. He also earned a master's degree in exercise science from the University of Connecticut, and he put his knowledge in health and strength training to work as the owner of Lightning Fitness in South Windsor, Conn. Lighting Fitness is a 7,100 square foot facility that provides individual fitness and group fitness classes for athletic pursuits ranging from yoga to strongman competition preparation.

Business-Superstar spoke with Mills about the challenges of starting and running a health and fitness business.


Q: What was the inspiration for Lightning Fitness? And was this your first business venture?

Matt Mills: Basically, my choice out of college was to be a strength coach and work for some kind of team, whether at the college or professional level. This sounds great, of course, but after talking with others I realized that the pay would be very low when I started out, and I would literally work at least a 12-hour day and not even have time to train myself. I also have never liked being told what to do when it comes to how I train people – and starting out, you would only be an assistant and then eventually work your way up to being a head coach.

Once I had the chance to start my own place, the choice was pretty easy for me. This was the first time that I decided to start my own business.


Q: How long did it take to create Lightning Fitness, and when did it officially launch?

Matt Mills: I started in 2006 with a partner I had met at a local gym. We were able to begin right away, since our overhead was very low, and all we needed was a small place to start with. It maybe took us a few weeks and we were open for business. [Editor's note: Mills and his business partner later parted ways, and Mills is the sole owner of his company.]


Q: What have been some of the challenges in starting and maintaining your company? And conversely, what have been some of the high points of this endeavor?

Matt Mills: There have been a lot of challenges. Most people think that once you own a business, you are immediately loaded – nothing can be further from the truth! Everything is on you to do well.

I’'e had to work two jobs since this started, just to makes ends meet. I would say the hardest part is just making money. Also, you have to do everything when you first start, which is another challenge: training, cleaning, accounting, etc.

The best part is seeing everything that you have worked so hard for begin to grow and start to succeed. Also, being your own boss is another great part about owning your business.


Q: How have you been able to promote your business? And what kind of a feedback have you received, to date?

Matt Mills: I don't do any kind of advertising anymore, but I have in the past. In my experience, it does nothing at all. The best thing for me is referrals – having a good reputation for getting results is all you need to bring in new people.

We have used Groupon and Living Social for promotional purchases, but that is a little different since people can purchase a month at my gym for a very low rate for a trial; that has also worked well for us.


Q: What professional advice would you give to someone who is interested in following your example and launching their own endeavor?

Matt Mills: Be ready to work you butt off and sacrifice everything to succeed. Over 85% of small businesses fail in the first year, and you have to be prepared for everything.

I have made a lot of mistakes in the past, but I also learned from them and I was able to improve my business because of it.


Lightning Fitness is online at